TODAY -

Ostrich Head in Sand

By Robert Lankey *



The English language is very rich and descriptive some "hiding their head in the sand, like an Ostrich" is said to be foolishly ignoring their problem, while hoping it will magically vanish. The Ostrich does many things, but hiding its head in the sand is one of them. Probably similar is the case with Myanmar who is popularly referred now, 'Reluctant brothers in arms to India".

The North East part of the country has been seen as the problem child since the very inception of Indian Republic. It has also been South Asia's most enduring theatre of separatist guerrilla war, a region where armed action has usually been the first, rather than the last option of political protest. But, none of these guerrilla campaigns have led to secession-like East Pakistan breaking off to become Bangladesh. New Delhi has repeatedly raised the concerns regarding the existence of anti-India insurgent's camps operating on across the borders of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar in the North East and of course in Pakistan (PoK) with Jammu and Kashmir.

India in the past, to dislodge the logistical support available to the insurgents in the neighboring countries had been seeking the support from its neighbors. In year 2003, in close cooperation with India, Bhutan had launched "Operation All Clear". They cracked down on some 30 camps (in December 2003) of Indian insurgent groups such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodo land (NDFB) and the Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO). But many of the insurgent groups relocated to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Bases were simply shifted to these countries.

India and Myanmar share a porus 1,643 Kilometer-long border and insurgents from the Indian (North Eastern) states of Nagaland, Manipur Assam and Tripura routinely cross it for sanctuary and training in camps they have set up in Myanmar. Government of India had made an assessment in year 2005 and also had submitted a list of 27 full time Indian Insurgent camps in Myanmar to the govt of Myanmar ruled by 'Junta'.

In the recent time at various occasions govt of India and 'Senior Military' officials responsible to look after the security scenario of conflict ridden north eastern states have stated that, "According to the inputs available 50-60 NE rebel camps are on the Myanmar side of the border. An equal number of camps are also operating inside the Bangladesh". About the camps in Myanmar it has also been mentioned that, 30-40 camps are relatively bigger and well established while the rest are temporary camps.

Myanmar's up and down relationship with neighboring India is on the up again with a new commitment for coordinated counter-insurgency operations along their mutual border. While previous promises to tackle armed groups failed in the actual implementation, analysis suggest there could be new impetus for strategic cooperation.

India's Home Secretary Mr GK Pillai led a delegation to Nay Pyi Taw in January for three days of secretarial level talks and also a high level delegation led by a senior Military General from Indian Army in the month of February, talk with Myanmar officials led by Lieutenant General Tha Aye, commander. No-1, Bureau of special operation (responsible for security of area of Myanmar bordering India).

The elimination of insurgent camps in Myanmar across the border from India's violence-plagued northeastern region featured in discussions. India also reportedly requested progress on demarcating the 1643 kms shared border and a crackdown on the cross border smuggling of narcotics, Chinese made weapons, smuggling of timbers and other goods. Many agencies have estimated that ULFA has 1000-1500 cadres and at least four major camps in Myanmar including the headquarters of its 28th Battalion.

The Manipuri People's Liberation Front (MPLF) an umbrella organization of several Manipuri groups with a combined strength up to 2500-3000 also has camps in Myanmar. Other smaller groups representing ethnic group such as the Kukis and the Zomis are also believed to maintain operations in Myanmar. In the last year (2009), a firmer line against Indian insurgent groups sheltering in Bangladesh was taken by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Insurgent bank accounts were frozen and ULFA lost it's Chairman (Political leader) Arabindo Rajkhowa and deputy commander Raju Baruah when they were arrested by Bangladeshi authorities in November. The crackdown is believed to have forced the ULFA to shift its camps and cadres to Myanmar. Seizures in Bangladesh of Chinese made weapons brought in by boat and believed destined for northeastern insurgents indicated that the country's port had become major gateway for weapons.

Encouraged by these successes New Delhi is now pushing again for Joint operations with Myanmar Army. It has been reported that Myanmar has promised after these two recent visits by Indian delegates (in Jan and Feb) that, "Security Forces of India and Myanmar will conduct coordinated operations in their respective territories in the next two-three months.

The objective of the operation is that, no militant can escape to the other side without facing the heat on one side. No date has been finalized for commencement of the operation. India has already beefed up its forces. The government also said, it will raise another 26 battalions of Assam Rifles (two to three per year) to secure border areas in Nagaland and Manipur states and support counterinsurgency operations.

Myanmar on its part, Nay Pyi Taw has said it still needs to build up its forces in its remote northwestern regions. They will likely be hard-pressed to launch an offensive in the area while engaged in a war of nerves with former ceasefire groups in the north. Other forces are needed to contain still-active insurgencies in their eastern part of the country. More forces will also be required presumably to ensure control of central portions of the country in a view to general elections planned for the latter half of this year.

Analysists, security experts of India, media and other scholars of strategic affairs including self have their reservations about the promises made by Junta because of many reasons, such as:

* Will ground forces of Myanmar be able to put a complete check on the movement of cadres inside their own territory?
* What about the nexus of Myanmar army personal having with IIGs for protection money?
* Will they be able to control the movement of Chinese made weapons being supplied through their area (agents helping Indian Insurgent group)?
* What about the movement and smugglings of narcotics (From Golden Triangle) for generation of money for Indian Insurgent Groups and Myanmar army as well?

There are many other things also to ponder! In a present scenario for Myanmar: It would likely be an unpopular move to carryout military operations while voters are going to polls. It has also been visualized that, Military Generals of Junta (Myanmar Army) have used the existence of the Indian Insurgent groups as leverage with New Delhi in the past and could conceivably use them as bargaining chips to gain legitimacy for the elections from the world's largest democracy (India).

The Junta cannot keep its head like an 'Ostrich head in sand' and think that problems will vanish on its own. If at all they want the democratic support of India they should co-operate in cleaning up the border with India infested with Indian Insurgent Groups. Junta also needs all the international support for an election which most observers and analysts believe is a foregone conclusion in favor of military backed candidates. By offering support for an outcome that will likely further consolidate the military's hold on power.

New Delhi could yet move the generals towards actions in tackling insurgents along the border to give breather to North Eastern states of India from everyday bloodbaths. India at this juncture should put pressure diplomatically on Myanmar to go to the co-operation mode with Indian security forces. If at all, Mr GK Pillai and Mr Chidambaram are interested in solving the problems of killings, extortions, kidnapping and Bundhs in Manipur then they should extend their conditional cooperation to Junta to bring democracy in Myanmar.

When Junta sincerely extends the military support to crush and demolish the infrastructures and bases of Indian Insurgent Groups of Northeast India in Myanmar then only govt at Delhi can plan to negotiate with new govt in Myanmar keeping the interest of the country in mind.


* Robert Lankey (freelancer based in North East) Nepram contributes regularly to e-pao.net. The writer can be reached at robertlanky(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on April 09th, 2010.



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